2015 Ham Radio Field Day

ham_field_day_2015
Every year the fourth weekend of June beckons ham radio operators from across North America to leave safety of their ham shack cocoon and head out to FIeld Day. It is a time for hams to practice their mastery over electromagnetic waves in more austere conditions so that they may be better prepared to serve their community in the event a natural disaster knocks out more modern, though less resilient, communications infrastructure.

It is also a time for camaraderie amongst fellow hams to show off their newest gear and for elmers (the term for seasoned hams) to share their knowledge with newer hams. As of late, it has also become an event to showcase what’s possible with amateur radio to a general public that has once again become interested in the DIY spirit that has been fostered by the Maker and STEAM Movements. In fact, April 2015 ended with highest number of active, licensed amateur radio operators ever in the United States with 730,283 hams.

This is the second year that PaxSpace has hosted a small “Get-On-The-Air” (GOTA) station for Field Day. A GOTA station let’s anyone, ham licensed or not, to experience the thrill of getting on the airwaves and talking with people all around the world. From our humble station at PaxSpace and operating under the callsign N1HNP, we were able to make QSOs (a term for radio contact) to hams in places such as Texas, California, Wisconsin, Vermont, Georgia, and even as far north as Ontario, Canada. The dozens of contacts made throughout the weekend were done using just enough power to light up an old 60-watt incandescent light bulb. We also had a chance to demonstrate a digital mode of communications known as PSK31 which allows you to essentially send text messages across the globe without the need for any intermediary equipment that modern computers and smartphones require.

Though you may have missed us this year, the good new is Field Day 2016 is only a year away! If you are interested in learning more about ham radio, we encourage you to check out American Radio Relay League (ARRL.org) and our local amateur radio club — St. Mary’s Amateur Radio Association (k3hki.org). Our local club offers many great courses to help you prepare to earn your Technician license which is the first of three grades of license in the United States, the subsequent classes being General and Extra. Hopefully by next year if we have a few additional PaxSpace hams we could set up a couple different radios to operate on a variety of frequencies and modes.

Time to start fixing things again!

Who remembers having a View-Master as a kid? You know…that plastic binoculars-looking toy that used thin cardboard disks containing seven stereoscopic 3D images. Well, somebody gave my kids an electric Star Wars version this year for the holidays. Instead of holding it up to your eyes this new toy projects images onto a wall and comes with 3D glasses for super special viewing.

projector-viewmaster

Needless to say they were excited to have their very own “holoprojector”. We quickly opened the box, put in the batteries (not included), turned off the lights, and hit the power button. Immediately we saw an amazingly clear image showing several Star Wars characters!! But before we could even get our 3D glasses on the image disappeared. I toggled the power switch a couple times and the image came back. Then gone. Then back. This continued for awhile with three very sad little kids. At this point I switched into geek mode and started to troubleshoot the problem. I quickly realized that if I left the projector on the image would come and go at random intervals. It was clear that we had a defective device and unfortunately did not have any receipt. If this would have happened to me 2 years ago I probably would have thrown the toy away and moved on. But since starting PaxSpace my childhood love of tinkering has returned and I was determined to figure out what was wrong.

When we returned home after the holidays I took the toy over to PaxSpace and immediately started to take things apart. If you don’t already know I am a Computer Scientist so my knowledge of electronics is just enough to be dangerous. But I did know that its always smart to start by checking each of the electrical connections. The projector light was obviously getting power but something was causing it to cycle at random. As I worked through the connections I noticed that there was a resistor which appeared to have a very poorly soldered connection.

projector-fixing

Firing up one of our irons I quickly re-soldered this connection as well as all of the others for good measure. Then I put the batteries back in and hit the power button half expecting nothing to work. I was wrong! The projector came right on and more importantly stayed on! I had done it and knew I would be a hero to my three children!

projector-working

It was also a small victory for me too. I did not let this cheap little toy beat me and just end up as trash in some landfill. I took the time to find out what was wrong and was able to fix it in less time than it would have taken for me to buy a new one. That, my friends, is why PaxSpace exists. Tinker on!

Nick, VP

Cutting Acrylic on PaxSpace’s CNC Router

CNC Box AfterCut

Using the CNC Router to make the electronics box for the CNC Router.

Design was done in Sketchup 2014 with interlocking tabs.

I used the SketchUCam plugin from Phlatscriptboyz to ready the design for the CNC Router. The SketchUCam plugin has two tool bars that work together. One is called PhlatBones that helps solves a common CNC problem. As you can see in my design I have square corners on all of my tabs for interlocking the box together. It is hard to cut a square corner with a round bit. SketchUCam PhlatBones script tools makes it easy to create the rounded corners so that all the pieces fit together nicely. It creates a small gap at each corner. If this is not acceptable then the corners may need to be cut out manually with a band saw.

The second tool bar is used for assigning all the cuts to the drawing. First thing is to configure SketchUCam to know what kind of bit I was using. In this case it was a 1/4″ bit, plus the speeds I wanted to use while cutting. I then started using the tools to assign cuts to my drawing. I used the “Insided Cut” tool for the circles. “Outside Cut” tool for the outside frame, and the “Centerline Cut” tool for the fan grill lines.  The Sketchup “group” command can then be used to group certain cuts together based on user preference. The “Tab” tool was then used to add tabs to the outside lines so that the piece being worked did not move while being cut. The settings for the tabs was 3/8″ wide with 50% cut-through. You can see some of the tabs in the picture above. These were easy to snap off after cutting.

Next step was to generate the G-Code using the “Generate G-Code” green arrow tool. This runs the script to generate the G-Code and then displays the cuts visually with a built in viewer. This is inspected to see if G-Code is doing what the user intended.

I copied the G-Code cnc file over to the CNC Router and after setting the zero point of the router, started the router cutting. I used the shop vac to vacuum the acrylic bits and to hold the material down.  Two more projects for the CNC router is a vacuum shoe and a vacuum table.

I snapped the pieces out of the big acrylic sheet and sanded the tabs flush with the edges.  I temporarily taped the box together to see what it looked like and how well if fit together. I have a few holes that I have to drill before I put it together. I still need to work out how to change bits in the middle of the cut.

Part of building the CNC electronics box is to add 3 new control buttons and the Emergency Stop switch that should make operating the CNC router easier. I plan to have a class on the CNC router at that time that should be in the near future.

 

CNC Box Taped

PaxSpace on The Pulse

If you have not seen it yet or do not have MetroCast be sure to check out the episode of The Pulse where Dr. Bob Schaller talks with Mike Cooper and Nick Clark.

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Free Materials are Available

If you haven’t been in the Space in a while, things might look a little different than the last time you were there!

In the past few weeks, we have been helping Smart Co move from their old location to their new one. During this move, they were very generous and allowed the members who helped out to ‘pick’ (American Pickers style) items that PaxSpace would be able to use. During this pick we’ve received LCD monitors, desktop computers and a host of other ‘goodies’ that will and currently are going to be put to great use.

During the ‘pick’ of Smart Co, we also managed to grab a host of electronics that they were going to recycle that we felt would be perfect for our membership. This equipment includes printers, PTZ cameras, and a host of other things. We’re making this equipment available to our members! If you have a project that you need a piece of equipment for, come look through our ‘Free Stash’ and take something out.

Once we start running out of Space for these “Free Items”, we will be recycling the oldest pieces (with some discretion)… so do not wait too long of that piece or equipment that you might have wanted to take/use in a project might just disappear!

PaxSpace is in the news!

We made the cover of the County Times. Read the article on page 20!!! And don’t forget to come out this Sunday from 12-5 for PaxSpace’s Open House! http://countytimes.somd.com/read/

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